When you undergo external beam radiation therapy treatment, each session is painless, just like getting an X-ray. The radiation is directed at your tumor from a machine located away from your body, usually a linear accelerator. External beam radiation is noninvasive. One of the benefits of radiation therapy is that it is usually given as a series of outpatient treatments so you don’t have to stay in the hospital. You may not need to miss work or experience the type of recuperation period that may follow more invasive treatments. The radiation therapist will deliver your external beam treatment following your radiation oncologist’s instructions. If an immobilization device was made during simulation, it will be used during every treatment to make sure that you are in the exact same position every day. Radiation therapists position you for treatment and set-up the equipment. Time spent in the treatment room will vary depending on the type of radiation. Once you are positioned correctly, the therapist will leave the treatment room and enter the control room next door to begin your treatment. During your treatment, your therapist will closely monitor you on a television screen. There is a microphone in the treatment room so you can always speak with the therapist if you have any concerns. The machine can be stopped at any time if you are feeling sick or uncomfortable. The radiation therapist may move the treatment machine and treatment table to target the radiation beam to the exact area of the tumor. The machine might make noises during treatment that sound like clicking, knocking or whirring, but the radiation therapist is in complete control of the machine at all times.
During radiation therapy, your radiation oncologist and nurse will see you regularly to follow your progress, evaluate whether you are having any side effects, recommend treatments for those side effects (such as medication) and address any concerns you may have. Your doctor may also make changes in the schedule or treatment plan depending on your response or reaction to the therapy. Your radiation oncology team will gather on a regular basis with other health care professionals to review your case to ensure your treatment is proceeding as planned. During these sessions, all the members of the team discuss your progress and any concerns.
Quality Assurance During Treatment
During your course of treatment, correct positions of the treatment beams will be regularly verified with images made using the treatment beam itself. These images (called port films, beam films or portal verification) represent an important quality assurance check but do not evaluate the tumor itself. Depending upon what kind of treatment you receive and what your doctor thinks will work best, the type of images used (e.g., X-ray, CT scan, ultrasound, etc.) may vary. These images assure your radiation oncologist that the treatment set-up accurately matches the intended target.